When I was a younger actor, I heard a phrase that stood me in good stead (for a short while) and that was ‘If in doubt, shout!’ The idea being that if you are ever caught with a piece of text that you didn’t understand, say it really loudly and confidently and no one will be any the wiser. It was, and is, a terrible bit of advice because of course, if you don’t understand what you're saying then neither will the audience and that moment will end up like a scratch on a CD - everyone is suddenly aware that the music has been interrupted.
Greg has always started with the table read and, though it is mentally very hard, it is incredibly fascinating and more importantly, means that everyone in the room knows exactly what is going on from moment to moment and is fully involved in the accurate telling of the story. I often think of play texts as a piece of music and every thought (or beat) is like a note that needs to played specifically and accurately otherwise the music loses its clarity, power and dynamic. Through the paraphrasing process we are consistently surprised by the true meaning of a line and who it may be directed to. This detail will hopefully provided a rock solid basis upon which to base and develop our relationships.
The way the process works is that we all sit around a large table with several editions of the play and some very helpful Shakespeare glossaries. No one is allowed to read their own part or comment on their own role. This in itself is brilliant because it eliminates the desire to perform on day one, impress anyone or make any hard and fast decisions about how to play your role. Being unable to comment during any discussions about your role is also fascinating because you can’t steer the discussion away from areas you don’t like. This often means that people have ideas and explore them in a way that you would never have originally thought.
The one thing I love about this company is that, though it is probably the biggest and best classical company in the world, it always tries to maintain its ensemble ethos. No matter how well known an actor is, they never consider themselves as any greater than anyone else and there is a true family feeling. As we read around the table, you have young and exciting new actors playing huge speeches as Prospero, as Simon Russell Beale plays two lines of another character in contrast.
The week ended with a full read of the play with everyone reading their own parts, having understood fully what is going on. It was literally glorious to hear how Greg and Hannah (Miller- head of casting) had organised their ‘orchestra’ to play so beautifully together. As we parted for the weekend to give our brains a rest, Greg let us watch an eight-minute silent movie version of The Tempest which was both moving and hilarious. Wild over-gesticulation married with lots of face pulling… sounds like one of my reviews.
Can’t wait for next week!